Every first-time player of daily fantasy football begins the new season undefeated, just like even the most hopeless NFL teams. But after 16 weeks of real football, most rookie fantasy players will have been separated from their money, just as certainly as the Cleveland Browns will be disabused of their playoff ambitions.
Daily fantasy is getting ready to generate more losers in 2015 than ever before. Each year in the history of daily fantasy sports has been bigger than the last, and September has become the biggest month for new fans trying the game, which combines the stats-jockeying of traditional fantasy contests with the thrills of old-fashioned sports betting. (Fantasy sports are exempted from the federal ban on sports gambling.) FanDuel and DraftKings, the two main services, will bring in a combined $60 million in entry fees in the first week of the NFL season, according to Adam Krejcik, a partner at Eilers Research. Sports books in Las Vegas, by contrast, are expected to handle about $30 million.
The rival startups prospered in football’s offseason. Both companies raised huge new rounds of investment, bringingDraftKings’s total haul to $426 million and FanDuel’s to $363 million, and both are now valued at more than $1 billion. To get to the size their investors are expecting requires a continuous stream of new players lured by ever-increasing prize pools with the help of muscular advertising campaigns. These ads never spell out a simple truth about daily fantasy competitions: While any player might get lucky on the back of a handful of entries, over time nearly all of the prize money flows to a tiny elite equipped with elaborate statistical modeling and automated tools that can manage hundreds of entries at once and identify the weakest opponents.
If a Middle Eastern man from 2,500 years ago found himself on his home territory in 2015, he would be shocked by the modern innovations, and not just electricity, airplanes, and iPhones. Arabic as an official language in over two dozen countries would also seem as counterintuitive to him as if people had suddenly started keeping aardvarks as pets.
In our time-traveler’s era, after all, Arabic was an also-ran tongue spoken by obscure nomads. The probability that he even spoke it would be low. There were countless other languages in the Middle East in his time that he’d be more likely to know. His idea of a “proper” language would have been Aramaic, which ruled what he knew as the world and served, between 600 and 200 B.C.E., as the lingua franca from Greece and Egypt, across Mesopotamia and Persia, all the way through to India. Yet today the language of Jesus Christ is hardly spoken anywhere, and indeed is likely to be extinct within the next century. Young people learn it ever less. Only about half a million people now speak Aramaic—compared to, for example, the five and a half million people who speak Albanian.
How does a language go from being so big to being on the verge of dying out entirely?
“Get in,” said Gunnar Karl Gíslason, pulling up in a Land Rover Defender outside his groundbreaking Reykjavík restaurant, Dill. He wanted to take me to visit a few of the producers who helped put his place on the forefront of a rapidly changing local food scene, but he wouldn’t tell me where we were going.
Before being named head of Danish food entrepreneur Claus Meyer’s highly touted new restaurant in New York’s Grand Central Station, Gíslason regularly drove around the countryside meeting micro producers. It was essential, he believed, that he understand the nature around him and meet the people directly immersed in it.
In Iceland, the elements have shaped the cuisine in ways that few other countries can compare. Fresh food was rarely available during the winter months. With just a few hours of sunlight each day few plants can grow, and the weather limits hunting and fishing. The cold and lack of drastic weather changes cause life to grow more slowly, infusing plants and shellfish with rich, deep flavors. Many of the old methods of preparing food, formed out of necessity, had the same effect, though sometimes to the point of overkill.
In early 2011, 1.5 million American households, including 3 million children, were living on less than $2 in cash per person per day. Half of those households didn’t have access to in-kind benefits like food stamps, either. Worst of all, the numbers had increased dramatically since 1996.
Those are the astonishing findings Johns Hopkins’ Kathryn Edin and the University of Michigan’s Luke Shaefer discovered after analyzing Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data in 2012. In the intervening years, Edin and Shaefer sought out Americans living in this situation, with basically no cash income, relying on food stamps, private charity, and plasma sales for survival.
The result is $2.00 a Day, a harrowing book that describes in devastating detail what life is like for the poorest of America’s poor. I spoke with Edin and Shaefer about the book Friday; a lightly edited transcript follows.
You’ve observed that Ivy League students have an internal struggle with both “grandiosity and depression.” Can you explain this further?
Alice Miller wrote about this 30 plus years ago in the classic The Drama of the Gifted Child, but I had to experience it to see it for myself. The grandiosity is that sense of “you’re the greatest, you’re the best, you’re the brightest.” This kind of praise and reinforcement all the time makes students feel they’re the greatest kid in the world. And I would say that this is even worse than when I was a kid. Now there’s a whole culture of parenting around this positive reinforcement.
These kids were always the best of their class, and their teachers were always praising them, inflating their ego. But it’s a false self-esteem. It’s not real self-possession, where you are measuring yourself against your own internal standards and having a sense that you’re working towards something. It’s totally conditional, and constantly has to be pumped up by the next grade, the next A, or gold star. As Miller says, what you’re really learning is that your parents’ love is conditional on this achievement. So when you fail, even a little bit, even if you just get a B on a test, or an A- on a test, the whole thing collapses. It may only collapse temporarily, but it’s a profound collapse—you feel literally worthless.
These are kids who have no ability to measure their own worth in any realistic way—either you are on top of the world, or you are worthless. And that kind of all or nothing mentality really pervades the whole system. It’s also why it’s Harvard or the gutter: If you don’t get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton, it’s a disgrace. If you go to Wesleyan, you can never show your face in public again.
I’m reasonably confident the exact same thing would happen if he were visiting a rural Nebraska county:
I drove up to the Red Lake County, Minn., courthouse not knowing exactly what to expect. This was, after all, the seat of the county that I had just a few days ago proclaimed, in a story, the “absolute worst place to live in America.“Residents had been outraged. A county commissioner told the state’s largest newspaper I could kiss his butt. Would I be arrested? Beat? Flogged with a hotdish?
But what greeted me instead last week was pure spectacle. A drum line from nearby Lafayette High School performed a routine on the courthouse steps. Officials and county residents, beaming and full of civic pride, lined up to shake my hand and welcome me to their home. And a gaggle of local press was there, cameras rolling, to cover it all.
As a reporter, I’m used to folks disagreeing with me, especially when covering contentious topics like guns, gay marriage and drug policy. But until I wrote about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s natural amenities index— which rates and ranks counties on measures of scenery and climate — I had never been disagreed with so much.
And so politely.
The first book you ever read was a book you didn’t read, but one that was read to you.
And whatever “first” might mean, it’s safe to guess it wasn’t read to you once, but repeatedly, over and over and over again.
By the time you came to your senses and grew into the awareness that you were hearing Goodnight Moon or Good Dog, Carl, the good words of those good books had been sounding over your crib or cradle for a good long time.
You were immersed, O reader, in the amniotic fluid of signs and symbols; surrounded by alphabet soup; always already swimming in a sea of language before you started chirping a few little bits of it back and taking your place in the community of communicators. From childhood you have known writings.
Open your eyes, take a deep breath, cut the umbilical cord (and here, towel off, you’re a mess) and join the great reading party as it mounts another raid on the fortress of that which has been written before we got here.
Welcome to our reading life.
A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them.
I’ve ignored these requests in the past. I know of too many colleagues who have responded to such invitations, only to see their books disappear on to a university library shelf in a distant corner of the world.
If someone tried to buy said book – I mean, like a real human being – they would have to pay the equivalent of a return ticket to a sunny destination or a month’s child benefit. These books start at around £60, but they can cost double that, or even more.
This time, however, I decided to play along.
So I got the editor on the phone and he asked if I had an idea for them. “Sure,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Perhaps I could write a book about…” – and here I started piling up ugly-sounding buzzwords.
I could hear how he momentarily drifted off, probably to reply to an email, and when I was done with my terrible pitch, he simply said: “Great!”
“The best thing now,” he continued, “is if you could jot down a few pages, as a proposal, which we could then send out to reviewers.” He paused a second, then added: “If you have any friends who could act as reviewers and who you think could sign off on the project, then that’d be great.”
I was intrigued by the frankness.
This just gets more depressing:
In late August, Shannon Neuman and her husband Chris went to the municipal court in Calgary, Alberta, to get a divorce. They had already filled out the forms and taken the requisite seminars. They navigated the 24-story Courts Centre and dropped their papers off.
Then, on their way out, Chris and Shannon — no longer the Neumans — paused in front of a courthouse sign. They snapped a selfie, both smiling.
“Here’s Chris Neuman and I yesterday after filing for divorce!” Shannonwrote in a Facebook post that was shared 11,000 times within its first hours online. (Wrote Chris, in the comments: “I couldn’t have hand-picked a better ex-wife if I tried.”)
Er … what is going on here? This isn’t at all the type of dialogue we expect around divorce, particularly since we’ve been taught that marriage is the only viable type of adult relationship or family structure. But in the era of platonic parenting and conscious uncoupling, these sorts of friendly, even triumphant #divorceselfies have become increasingly common. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, in fact, you’ll find over a hundred of them.
One morning in October 1536, in the Flemish town of Vilvorde, William Tyndale was led by his guards from his cell to a cross in the public square, to which he was tied at the ankles and waist with chains, and at the neck with a loose hemp cord.
Contrary to popular legend, he was not burned alive. Thieves and beggars were burned alive, women were burned alive, but Tyndale was a scholar and degraded priest: he was afforded the courtesy of being strangled first. When the procurer-general gave the signal, an executioner standing behind the cross pulled the hemp cord tight around Tyndale’s neck until he was dead. Then he lit the pile of brush and gunpowder that had been built up around the cross, and stood back.
Translation has always had its fair share of occupational hazards, but the execution of William Tyndale is one of rare examples in literary history of a translator killed for his work. It happened in an era when translation was taken extremely seriously, not just because it allowed ordinary people to read the Bible in their own languages, but because it implied those languages were as capable of containing God’s Word as Latin, Greek or Hebrew. Tyndale’s New Testament didn’t just imply this: it proved it, giving readers a Gospel that was both noble and familiar—a book of shepherds, the kitchen, the market, sons.